Car theft series with a Nokia phone

29. 09. 2022 Thursday / By: Robert Denes / Generic / Exact time: BST / Print this page

A car theft ring busted in Île-de-France used an old modified Nokia phone to start keyless stolen SUVs. Six men are currently on trial at the Nanterre court, suspected of having created a network that led to the theft and illicit export of around fifty SUVs to the Ivory Coast - all stolen in the Paris region. However, according to the newspaper Le Parisien, which reported on the case, one detail is particularly striking: the person referred to in the article as Mohamed S., who is referred to as the brain of the network, developed an original technique for starting stolen vehicles.

The 54 stolen SUVs actually started with an old Nokia modified to communicate with vehicles through their OBD (On-board Diagnostics) port. This port, which has gradually spread since its introduction in the 1980s, is usually used by mechanics to access various parameters of the vehicle, its primary purpose being to detect malfunctions. Initially, the system was content to display a light signal when an error was detected.

The thieves started off-road vehicles with a repaired old Nokia But with the passage of time and updates, the OBD port and the critical on-board systems connected to it have become the attack surfaces of choice for all kinds of hackers and car thieves. Already in 2010, the first articles describing car thefts with keyless entry via the OBD port were published. And a 2012 study by the University of California, San Diego, titled "Experimental Safety Analysis of Modern Cars," concluded that the OBD port designed in the 1970s and 80s was not designed with safety in mind from the start.

Indeed, the researchers were able to easily take control of various vehicle devices as part of their studies. Until you can actually install the modified firmware in the ECUs. However, many manufacturers extend what this bus can do beyond the original intent of the OBD port designers. Without an initial security system (not even a password - the only real protection for the OBD ports is that they are not visible from the outside), many actors will be able to maliciously abuse the system.

So Mohammed S. modified an old Nokia phone to make it easier to steal a car. We believe that this was one of the first smartphones launched in collaboration with HMD, but the exact model is not given by our colleagues in Paris. In addition, Mohammed S invented an OBD connector to connect the mobile to the car to better start stolen Toyota 4×4, Peugeot 508 and other DS7 Crossbacks without a key, as in this video from the camera.

The video, unrelated to the case heard by the Nanterre court, shows thieves breaking into the car and driving away after abusing the OBD port. A priori, many vehicles are still exposed to this technology even in 2022. The only way to protect yourself is to ask the garage to switch off, move or install a mechanical blocking device to prevent access.

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